Many parents look to rabbits as a great option for their child’s first pet. It can be very rewarding to see children bonding with animals, but it does not mean that choosing a pet is always a simple task. Rabbits are much less complicated pets than many others you might choose, but there are still factors to consider.
Your child will need to show a certain degree of responsibility in order to successfully care for their pet, so consider whether they are ready and genuinely interested. Both children and pets require exercise, so their bonding could be mutually beneficial, but we advise waiting until the age of 12 at least so that children can better understand some of the challenges involved.
Consider the following pointers to assess whether a rabbit will be a good fit for your family:
Rabbits are largely gentle and easy to keep, and they can show a lot of love and affection for your child. Bunnies that have really taken to their owners may follow them around and leap into their arms given the chance. Your child may love having a rabbit who adores them back and allows them to play and cuddle. The addition of a toy for the rabbit to chew can be a good way of making sure your rabbit doesn’t bite your child, however unlikely this may be.
Other advantages are that rabbits can be litter trained like cats, and they often incur relatively low veterinary bills. Reasons for taking a rabbit to the vet tend to include upper respiratory issues, such as nasal discharge or wheezing, as well as loss of weight or appetite. These issues are usually the result of poor care, however, so if you’re a good owner there’s little reason to fear hidden costs.
It is best to address any likely disadvantages before purchasing a new rabbit for your child. You will know how responsible your child is, so make a reasonable assumption as to the level of care and attention they will give to a pet rabbit on a daily basis.
Be honest with your child about rabbit waste and the fact that clearing up after their pet might be messy. Without a regular clear-out of pens and hutches, the rabbit’s urine will produce a strong, unpleasant smell. A cordless mobile vacuum with an additional mop feature will make managing the rabbit’s pen much easier.
Your child will need to understand that if their rabbit is to be kept indoors, they must keep any precious belongings away from it if they don’t want them to be chewed. This also goes for electrical items, as chewing these could lead to disaster.
Ongoing attention should be paid to the length of a rabbit’s nails. Teach your child to assess when their pet’s nails might need cutting, as well as how to hold their rabbit properly, as this is not likely to come naturally to them (see earlier for handling tips and how to steady a rabbit’s back so it does not buck and injure itself).
Be sure your child knows that a pet rabbit might not always mean peace and quiet. Rabbits may not bark like dogs, but they can stamp their back feet very hard.
Although rabbits can be shy at first, they will ultimately want to socialize, so ask yourself if your child is likely to become bored of their new pet. Adding a second rabbit will ensure your pet always has company, but this will be more expensive and potentially more problematic if you chose poorly.
Furthermore, some children may be allergic to rabbits, so consider whether they have shown signs of this when interacting with other animals in the past.
Compared to many other pets, rabbits represent a fairly inexpensive option. They should be checked by a vet annually, and their food supply should set you back no more than $25–$50 a month, even if you treat them to vegetables, pellets, and chew toys alongside their hay provision.
In terms of getting started, a cage measuring around 30 to 36 inches is ideal for a rabbit. These can be bought for as little as $40–$60 and still be of good quality. Smaller cages are not advisable, as a rabbit can become uncomfortable, develop sores, put on weight, or become depressed in a small cage. An older or bigger rabbit may need an upgrade to a 6 x 2 ft cage, featuring a more extensive free-range section, which will also mean a deeply-wired gate to safeguard your pet at night – you never know when other animals might be about.
Veterinary treatments for sick rabbits are also fairly low compared to those for cats and dogs.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Do consider a pet rabbit for a child needing an ESA (emotional support animal).
- Do allow a child to get to know their pet through gentle cuddles and bonding.
- Do make sure your veterinarian specializes in rabbits, as so many are just used to dealing with cats and dogs.
- Do not think it is a good idea to feed rabbit sweets; these are bad for their health and could possibly even lead to a deadly gastrointestinal stasis condition.
- Do not put your rabbit in a bath, as their skin does not respond well to being soaked. They may go into shock or even suffer hypothermia as a result.
- Do not give in to the temptation to pick up a rabbit by the scruff of its neck, and always make sure its back is supported when lifting. Being picked up by the scruff of the neck causes a rabbit to think it has been seized by a predator, leading to a state of shock.
- Do not trust an outdoor enclosure that is not well ventilated or that offers no safety from passing predators.
A robust enclosure, in which your rabbit can stay safe and warm, combined with a child that is willing to act responsibly and bond with their pet makes for an excellent mix and rewarding experience. In short, a rabbit is a great choice for a pet so long as it also has a good owner.